It's a remarkable move by Reid, who issued his threat to nuke the filibuster for executive branch nominations on the basis of whether the seven nominees would receive a vote. Three nominees would serve on the National Labor Relations Board and the rest would lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Labor Department, Environmental Protection Agency and Export-Import Bank. The primary lingering dispute is over the fate of two NLRB nominees whom President Obama appointed while Congress was in recess.
It remains possible the nuclear option will be avoided this time around as a group of Republicans, led by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), are easing up on the stalled nominees. As Reid sees it, he's calling the shots over McConnell.
"We're fighting for the principle that executive nominees should get up-or-down votes," the senior Democratic aide said. "If Republicans will give us that, there's a chance we won't go nuclear, but we will maintain the ability to go nuclear if they start filibustering nominees again."
Sen. John Thune (R-SD) all but admitted that Richard Cordray had the votes to be confirmed to the CFPB. The remaining discussions are about confirming the two NLRB picks -- Sharon Block and Richard Griffin. If they go through, Reid will have no incentive to go nuclear this time around, but people close to him say he refuses to give up his right to do what's needed to make sure the Senate functions in the future.
"This would also be a rebuke to McConnell from his caucus," the aide continued, "since the group [of Republicans] we're talking with is so sick of the obstruction themselves that they're basically willing to give us everything we're asking for with no conditions on future action."
Reid and McConnell met privately on Monday afternoon, before a separate 3 1/2-hour-long evening meeting of 98 senators ended without a resolution on the stalled nominees. News about McConnell's offer to Reid about ending the nuclear threat was first reported by Jonathan Cohn of The New Republic. Both leaders said after the meeting that discussions would continue on a deal to confirm the nominees.
Procedural votes are scheduled to begin Tuesday morning on the seven nominees, and if Republicans filibuster them, Reid has vowed to nuke the filibuster for executive nominations -- but preserve the minority blocking tactic for legislation and judicial nominees.